Your twenties are a tough decade. You have to learn how to adult, and sometimes it’s a hard road. No one turns up the day you graduate with a “Welcome to Adulthood” gift basket and a manual for what to do next. (Wouldn’t that just be amazing, though? We should start that business).
But if you want some great life lessons, it turns out children’s books are full of them. And the wisdom isn’t only for the twelve-and-under set. Take it from this children’s librarian, you might even learn more from these books as a grownup than you did as a kid.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Margaret is curious about everything. Periods, bras, boys, God. All the good stuff that comes with growing up. She is totally relatable and not afraid to ask the questions we all wondered about at her age. This is a great book to help you realize that girl struggles are universal. We all wonder and worry about the same stuff, no matter who we are and how we old we get.
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
In this retelling of The Snow Queen, Hazel and Jack are best friends until Jack stops talking to her. Then he disappears. Hazel is really struggling to find her way—she’s a shy girl from India adopted by a white family, and now her parents are getting divorced. Jack is her only friend, and she goes on a rescue mission to find him because she just can’t stand to lose anything else. Such a haunting book about finding your courage, but also so honest and heartbreaking about those friendships that just have to change because they can’t keep going the way they are.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson is just the most amazing storyteller, and her memoir in verse is about growing up in the civil rights era and finding her own voice in the world. “I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.” She will make you feel good about the world, despite all of its flaws.
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
The greenery in Liam’s city has completely disappeared, until one day he finds an unlikely patch of grass that just needs love. The Curious Garden is just the most gorgeous children’s book about saving the planet. It will make you want to start a community garden.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Esperanza is from a wealthy Mexican family, and she thinks her life will always be comfortable and privileged. Then she and her mom have to flee Mexico, and they end up in California during the Great Depression. Esperanza learns a lot about gratitude, humility, and humanity. You will, too.
Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor
Nancy lives for playing dress-up and using big vocabulary words, and no one can deny that this girl knows how to live out loud. She is an awesome reminder to always be yourself, and to always be fabulous.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
In this children’s classic, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away from her boring, privileged life in Connecticut, and she takes her little brother Jamie with her. They move into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and try to solve an art mystery. Claudia doesn’t want to go home until something epic happens to her. This is a great story about changing on the inside when everything around you stays the same.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Lowry’s Newbery winner appears constantly on lists of challenged books. It’s a really compelling story about a culture that has adopted “Sameness” to bring about peace. There is no war or hunger, but also no art, literature, opinions, or even colors. It uses brutal tactics to keep its citizens in line, and only one boy sees the truth. This is a fabulous read if you’re struggling to break away from the beliefs and politics of your parents.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet thinks it’s completely awesome and okay to spy on everyone in town because she wants to be a writer. But then she loses her spy notebook and all of her friends. Moral of the story? Don’t be that girl, the one who needs to be in everyone’s business.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
This award-winning novel in verse is about a young girl who flees Vietnam during the war and grows up in Alabama. It’s inspired by the author’s own life, and it’s a beautiful and funny story about learning to fit in and still honor where you came from.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
An automaton is at the center of this stunning novel about an orphaned boy with too many secrets. Selznick’s giant 500+ page book is almost half illustrations, and those alone make the book so worth checking out. But this is also a story about trusting people and learning that you can’t go through life alone.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
When you read Dahl’s books as a grownup, you realize that they are actually really dark. The guy did not sugarcoat things for kids. And this one is all about Matilda, who has the worst parents ever. They are truly terrible and abusive. But somehow, despite coming from her terribly family, Matilda manages to build herself a happy life. And she doesn’t let the terrible swallow her up, either.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Edward is a china rabbit who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. He is deeply loved by the little girl who owns him, and he doesn’t love her back. Then he’s lost at sea and starts on an odyssey that opens his heart wide. This is a true love story.
A Monster Calls by Siobhan Dowd and Patrick Ness
This is one of the best books ever written about grief, for kids or anyone else. Conor is 13, and his mom is sick again. When a terrifying giant tree monster comes to his window, Conor isn’t afraid. Because he’s been waiting for the monster from his nightmares, and this one’s nothing in comparison. The tree monster keeps visiting and demanding that Conor tell him about his nightmare. Conor has to confront his deepest fears, and his deepest terrible thoughts about himself and his mom. This is oo honest about losing a loved one to illness, but it’s also surprisingly funny.
Olivia by Ian Falconer
If you’re still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, let Olivia inspire you. This little pig wants to be an opera diva and recreates Jackson Pollack paintings on her walls at home. We want to be her when we grow up.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Some kids spend their summers in camp, but Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern spend it with the Black Panthers. It’s 1968, and they’re reuniting with the mom who abandoned them years before. Instead of doing all the mom stuff they’ve been dreaming of, they learn about their roots and their civil rights. It’s a story about finding your identity and navigating a difficult maternal relationship.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Never has another heroine shown that girls can do anything like Pippi Longstocking. She is brave, she can lift anything, she has a great sense of style, and she always looks on the bright side.
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Catherine is 12 and feels neglected by her parents, who are consumed with her autistic little brother. She creates rules for her brother to keep him from embarrassing her in public. But then she makes some new friends who teach her to stop worrying about what other people think and to embrace people’s differences. This is a great story about families dealing with autism, but also a tremendously good book about not judging others. And the advice—like “looking closer can make something beautiful”—is universal.
Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobbie
Toot likes to travel the world, and Puddle likes to stay close to home. They are total opposites and best friends who stay in touch even when they’re far apart. Send a copy to your bestie who moved away so she knows you’ll always be besties.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
When Winnie is 11, she meets the Tuck family and discovers that they are immortal. Winnie befriends them and sees the serious downsides to living forever. Eventually she has to decide whether she wants to be immortal, too. This book will remind you to appreciate your youth and also not to be afraid of growing up.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
We all know the Disney version of Pooh, but Milne’s original stories are overflowing with life lessons and wisdom. Plus, the illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard are great. Read the original for tearjerker lines like, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Wonder by RJ Palacio
Auggie Pullman is a homeschooled fifth grader with a serious facial deformity, and he’s about to go to school for the first time. This marvelous book started the #choosekind movement, inspired by Auggie and his classmates who chose to rise above bullying. You will be in tears at the end and a little kinder to everyone in the world for reading it.
[Image via Shutterstock]